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'Community' Season 5 in Review: What Worked and What Needs Fixing

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Apr 18, 2014 | 2:27pm EDT

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And with one last cafeteria dance party, Greendale has once again been saved, and Community has almost reached its ultimate goal of six seasons and a movie. 

But the group’s hard-earned victory felt somewhat hollow, and the fifth season was brought to a close in a particularly lackluster way. Despite last week’s episode, “Basic Story” setting up a slightly different, more interesting take on the idea of the study group contemplating moving on and growing up, the finale threw all of those developments out the window for what turned out to be their most formulaic adventure yet. In fact, lackluster the best way to sum up season five as a whole, which got off to a great start, but seemed to fall flat after losing Troy and Pierce.

Since “Basic Sandwich” brings to a close a season surrounded by controversy and media attention, it seems only fair to look back on all of the episodes to see what worked, what didn’t and what we think Community can improve in the event that get the season we’ve been waiting for.

Worked: Duncan and Hickey
The loss of Troy and Pierce left the study group somewhat off-balance, but Duncan and Hickey were the ideal replacements for two of the gang’s most important members. Like Donald Glover, John Oliver has the ability to deliver almost every punch line perfectly, and so he’s given this season some of its best and weirdest jokes. Jonathan Banks has also made a great addition to the group, giving their adventures some edge and playing the “grumpy older man” role with hilarious results. We’re not sure if they’ll be back next year, as both are committed to other series, but we sincerely hope they are. After all, we still need to find out how Hickey’s gay son’s wedding went.

Didn’t Work: The Finale
The fifth season kicked off with “Repilot,” which allowed the show to start over again from a fresh, new perspective, which is why it makes no sense for the show to end on another push of the reset button. What’s the point of setting up interesting storylines or putting the characters through major changes of everything’s going to be wiped away at the end of the season with some Dave Matthews Band? The whole point of this season was to rebuild the show after the “gas leak,” and so ending up at the same place we started essentially renders everything that happened this year pointless.

Worked: Abed
Abed was by far the MVP of Season 5, and his combination of meta commentary and heart gave the show some much-needed life this year. Between his heartbreaking goodbye to Troy and his long, rambling monologue about Britta and Jeff’s spinoff in “Basic Sandwich,” Abed continues to be one of the show’s strengths, and he has truly become the heart and soul of Community. Plus, he does the best Nicolas Cage impression we’ve ever set eyes on.

Didn’t Work: Lack of Shirley
Her relationships with the other members of the study group have given the show some of its best episodes and most iconic moments, but the fifth season of Community saw Shirley shunted to the side in favor of the other characters. She never once received a story line of her own, and all of the things we’ve learned about her over the years – her devotion to her family, her dedication to her business, her secret foosball past – were touched upon at all this year. It’s not enough to simply reference her lack of screen time. You need to actually give her some more attention in order for it to work.

Worked: Higher Stakes
This year’s highlights came whenever the characters dealt with big issues: the loss of two of their own, the threat of mortality, life turning out differently than they expected, and having to leave behind their safety net. These stories provided the funniest moments and the cleverest parodies and gave the fifth season some much needed weight. We’re hoping the writers will bring keep exploring bigger issues in the sixth season, as everything gets a little more serious now that the study group understand what failure in the real world feels like.

Didn’t Work: Jeff/Annie/Britta
Look, we don’t care if he dates Britta, Annie, both or neither, but the show needs to either follow through with this plot or let it go completely. We can’t suffer through any more of Jeff and Annie pining over each other, and while we love Britta and Jeff’s bickering, their fake-out attempts at a relationship are losing their charm. Pick a direction and stick with it, and please, spare us all any more will-they-or-won’t-they-is-this-a-love-triangle-or-are-they-all-just-friends nonsense.

Only Kind of Worked: Season 4 Bashing
We get it: Dan Harmon hates Season 4. It’s understandable. But while we loved the small references to the issues everyone had with those episodes, much of this season felt like Harmon was just attempting to prove how much better he is at running Community than everyone else. The parody episodes felt less like homages than an opportunity to showcase how much better his references were, and many of the characters’ plots felt like a deliberate attempt to undo everything the show runners of season four came up with. Now that we’ve all made peace with the past, how about we just look forward for season six, and allow everyone to just move on. (We're still on board with the gas leak idea, though.)

Still Doesn’t Work No Matter How Hard We Try: Chang
Ken Jeong still has some brilliant moments, but Chang hasn’t felt like an organic part of the show since he was fired way back in season one. He flip-flops back and forth between good and evil as the story requires, but he doesn’t’ add anything to the show. If the writers can’t figure out a decent story for him for the next season, it might be best to just reduce his role to a recurring one, so that we get all of the best parts of Chang without him wearing out his welcome. Or just give him and Garret a spinoff. We’d watch every episode of that.

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